To the uninitiated, video games are nothing more than a children's toy. Vapid little bits of digital mind crack that offer nothing but a simple escape from reality. Though this may be true on some occasions, those of us in the know realize that video games can be a truly immersive art form when executed in the right way, and sometimes they can elicit emotions in a way that most other art forms can't.
With this in mind, I thought I'd highlight a few of the games that I think showcase the format as a perfect medium for storytelling and artistry; those games that stand out in my memory for their emotional impact.
Keep in mind that these are my opinions, and a couple of these games have been chosen based on their context within my own life. So see what you think of my personal picks and feel free to drop your own choices into the comments.
Here are 8 emotional video games that gave me feels!
(WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead if you have not played these games)
I got really excited when I first heard about Ni No Kuni. This game is a JRPG that was produced in collaboration with the legendary Studio Ghibli, so visually as well as narratively the game is impressive to say the least. The main character is a young boy by the name of Oliver, and within the first 20 minutes or so of the game his mother dies, in no small part as a result of Oliver's own actions. Talk about emotional, this game had me ready to break down and cry essentially before the game itself had even started. Well, after this initial plot device, a toy given to Oliver by his now deceased mother comes to life, and adventure ensues. During the game, subtle themes of loss, acceptance and coming of age carry the emotional aspects of the game right through to the end. I highly recommend this game if you enjoy crying during cartoons.
If you've never heard of Naughty Dog's (in my opinion) opus, stop reading now and go play The Last of Us. This game utilizes the video game medium to its most artful extent creating a cinematic, immersive experience like none I've ever experienced. Like Ni No Kuni, The Last of Us hits hard from the start as the main protagonist Joel's daughter is killed within the first 20 or so minutes of gameplay. But the feels don't stop there. Early in the game, Joel is introduced to a young girl, Ellie, that he must accompany to safety. Their relationship is quite an odd one since Ellie eventually views Joel as a sort of father figure, and Joel is constantly struggling with how he should approach his own feelings towards the young girl. Should he fight the urge to play father figure or should he fill the void left by the loss of his daughter? The Last of Us has one of the most intricate well thought out storylines I've ever seen attempted in a video game... and of course, it gave me lots of feels.
I'm a huge fan of 16 bit JRPGs, and this game, originally released on the SNES is easily in my top 3 within the genre. One of the things that really impressed me about this game is the emotional impact it managed to illicit with no voice acting and limited graphical capabilities. The overall mood of the game has some underlying themes of honesty, friendship and doing the right thing that set an emotional tone as the game progresses. But there are some more subtle emotional undertones that aren't as forthright. Under the whimsical, humorous story within Earthbound, there is a sort of coming of age theme that I think was very relevant at the time I played this game. Also as you progress in Earthbound you find yourself further and further from home, experiencing new things and meeting new people. You probably won't cry playing Earthbound, but I think you'll feel some feels.
Mario 64 is a bit of an odd one on this list, but hear me out. The first time I played this game I had never experienced something like it. The world was textured and expansive. The graphics were mind blowing and there was something about this game that felt very surreal to me. There was also this slight sense of loneliness within Mario 64 as you make your way through the castle and its bizarre and mysterious levels. Basically, if I had to sum up the feels acquired playing Mario 64 I would say I felt a bit warped. This game made me have feelings I don't really know how to articulate because I had never experienced anything like this game.
Known as Final Fantasy 3 when I played it, this is again admittedly a game that gave me feels you may find a bit subjective, but I think my reasoning is sound. There are a few aspects of this classic RPG that really hit me like no game had ever done up to that point, which of course I am about to tell you. The first thing that stands out is the cinematic intro. Though by today's standards it doesn't look like much, the mysterious intro coupled with rolling credits as dramatic music plays and the characters walk to the horizon made me feel like I was playing more than just a "game" for the first time in my life. The second thing that outs this game on my list is the emotional connection I felt with the characters. I had played a handful of RPGs and story driven games prior to FFVI, but none that captivated me and made me care about the characters in a truly meaningful way. Feels all the way.
I could say many of the same things about Secret of Mana as Final Fantasy 6, although if my memory serves me correctly, I actually played Mana after FFVI. But there is one single element about this game that still takes me back to a very specific emotional state even just thinking about it; The music, in particular the theme song. That goddamn theme song.
I had to include the original Resident Eveil because it was the first time a game made me feel fear. I'm so jaded by technology and entertainment now that I don't think any other game has actually had this affect on me, But I remember renting this game without knowing a whole lot about it, trying to play it in the basement with the lights off and very quickly turning those lights back on. The general mood of the game is pretty spooky even considering the technical limitations of the PS1, and that first cinematic of the zombie eating someone's face off was CRAY. We'll just pretend the voice acting and live action intro didn't happen...
Shadow of The Colossus made me feel a couple of distinct emotions. The first was a sense of serene loneliness as I made my way through the expansive landscape searching for monsters to kill. The second emotion was a sense of regret and guilt as I realized my motivations for killing those "monsters" was completely selfish and they had done absolutely nothing to earn my aggression. An interesting emotion that not many games I can think of manage to invoke.
What are some of the most emotional video games you've ever played? Do you agree with my list? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.